Daily Kickoff: Sen. Schumer’s Hanukkah humor | Yair Lapid, Michael Oren react to Politico’s report on Hezbollah | NYT on ‘rainmaker’ Aryeh Bourkoff
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DRIVING THE DAY — “U.N. to vote Monday on call for U.S. Jerusalem decision to be withdrawn” by Michelle Nichols: “The one-page Egyptian-drafted text… does not specifically mention the United States or Trump. The draft U.N. text expresses “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.” It “affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.” The draft also calls upon all countries to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.” [Reuters] • Palestinians may seek U.N. Assembly support if U.S. vetoes Jerusalem resolution: envoy [Reuters]
DRIVING THE WEEK — Vice President Mike Pence and Mideast Envoy Jason Greenblatt are expected to visit the region this week, but will not meet with Palestinian Authority officials, after the Palestinians have decided to halt its contacts with the Trump administration. Majdi al-Khalidi, a senior diplomatic adviser to Abbas, said over the weekend that Greenblatt did not request a meeting with the Palestinians. Yesterday, a small group of Palestinian protesters set fire to placards printed with images of Pence and Greenblatt outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Abbas is expected to meet with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Riyadh tomorrow.
Meanwhile, senior administration officials indicated on Friday that the Western Wall is part of Israel. “We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel,” one official said during a background briefing discussing Pence’s visit to the region. As a result, Pence’s visit to the Kotel on Wednesday has been labeled as an official visit. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted the shift in policy at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem: “I would like to express once again our special appreciation for the determination and leadership of President Trump and his administration in defending Israel’s truth.” [Video]
Former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro on the administration’s statement re: the Kotel: “It wasn’t what they said, but what they didn’t say. Palestinians and also Muslims and Arabs interested in an agreement have a justifiable question: what can they expect to receive at the end of the process? … Even a mediator that’s exceedingly close to one of the sides, as the US is to Israel, should be forthright and honest with all parties regarding what they can expect on an issue as sensitive as Jerusalem.” [Ynet]
“If You Want To Understand Trump’s Stance On Israel, Just Ask Evangelicals” by Miriam Berger: “One of the largest philanthropic organizations in Israel raises money from American evangelical Christians. Others, based in the United States, send volunteers to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. “Those organizations are certainly growing and they are making a difference,” said leading Christian Zionist Reverend Johnnie Moore, the unofficial spokesperson for the around two dozen members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, made up of prominent and powerful politicians and clergy who now have “an open door” to the White House.” [BuzzFeed]
“A War Trump Won” by Ross Douthat: “The Trump strategy on Israel and the Palestinians, the butt of many Jared Kushner jokes, seems … not crazy? The relatively mild reaction to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may be a case study in expert consensus falling behind the facts; the Arab world has different concerns than it did in 1995, and Trump’s move has helped clarify that change. Likewise, getting the Saudis to lean hard on the Palestinians, to float radical ideas for a supersized Gaza and a very Israel-friendly solution elsewhere, is as plausible an attempt to break the logjam as was the pressure Obama put on Israel.” [NYTimes]
DEEP DIVE: “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook” by Josh Meyer: “In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States, according to a Politico investigation… The administration’s eagerness for an Iran deal was broadcast through so many channels, task force members say, that political appointees and career officials at key agencies like Justice, State and the National Security Council felt unspoken pressure to view the task force’s efforts (on Hezbollah’s drug cases) with skepticism…”
“The White House was driven by a broader set of concerns than the fate of the nuclear talks, the former White House official said, including the fear of reprisals by Hezbollah against the United States and Israel, and the need to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East… “I guess it’s possible that they [the White House] didn’t want to try hard because of the Iran deal but I don’t have memories of it,” said the former official. “Clearly there were things that the Obama administration did to keep the negotiations alive, prudent negotiating tactics to keep the Iranians at the table. But to be fair, there was a lot of shit we did during the Iran deal negotiations that pissed the Iranians off.”” [Politico]
KAFE KNESSET — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Right-wing Twitter broke out in calls of “I told you so” this morning following the Politico story on Obama, Hezbollah and the Cassandra project. “Is there any doubt about why Obama was bad for Israel, and how Trump is better for us? I wonder who will apologize now?” Likud Communications Minister Ayoob Kara tweeted, complimenting the “excellent” Politico report.
In the opposition, Kafe Knesset asked Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid for his reaction at the weekly faction meeting. “First of all, at the moment it’s only an report on a website, a respected site, so we do not know if it’s true. If the report is correct, Obama must return his Nobel Peace Prize – because Israel repeatedly warned that there can be no connection between the nuclear agreement and anti-terror activity, certainly against Hezbollah, which is the largest terrorist organization in the world. We also warned specifically about this because of the proven link between Hezbollah and Iran.”
Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said the report “is no surprise for me and every Israeli who was involved in the effort to prevent a bad nuclear agreement with Iran. It was clear that the administration was willing to do anything to reach an agreement, including ignoring the smuggling of Hezbollah’s cocaine into the United States, and the Iranian terror that had taken hundreds of Americans and Israelis lives and hundreds of thousands of Syrians. This exposé, and others that may be published in the future, must strengthen our determination to cancel, or at least substantially alter, this dangerous agreement.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here[JewishInsider]
HAPPENING TODAY AT 2:00 PM ET: President Trump will unveil the administration’s National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center [Livestream]
— The strategy document asserts that “for generations the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been understood as the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region. Today, the threats from radical jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region’s problems. States have increasingly found common interests with Israel in confronting common threats.”” [AP]
— Flashback: Jared Kushner at the Saban Forum a few weeks ago — “I think that if we’re going to try and create more stability in the region as a whole, this (Israeli-Palestinian) issue has to be solved.” [JewishInsider]
“As ISIS Recedes, U.S. Steps Up Focus on Iran” by Dion Nissenbaum: “Gen. [H. R.] McMaster has made it clear in recent days that the U.S. is crafting ways to contain that threat in Syria. “What we face is the prospect of Iran having a proxy army on the borders of Israel,” he said at a public forum earlier this month. American and Israeli officials are especially troubled about intelligence suggesting that Iran is establishing a military facility in northwestern Syria to make long-range missiles… The Trump administration is seeking ways to prevent the Syrian war from transforming into a new regional conflict between Israel and Iran. The U.S. and its allies are trying to use the expansion of de-escalation zones in Syria to halt Iran’s expansion along the borders with Israel and Jordan. But critics say the agreements have actually shored up Iran’s gains and undercut the goals.” [WSJ]
— “Trump faces another difficult deadline on the Iran deal in mid-January. That’s when waivers expire that currently hold back U.S. sanctions against Iran. This deadline puts Trump in the uncomfortable position of choosing whether to keep the sanctions at bay, in accordance with the deal, when he’s told Congress he thinks sanctions relief is inappropriate.” [LATimes]
SCENE YESTERDAY — 5 Towns Edition: Trudy and Stanley Stern hosted Senate Minority Leader, and the highest ranking Jewish elected official in the country, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow(D-MI), at their home in Lawrence, New York on Sunday afternoon. The event, organized by NORPAC, was a fundraiser to benefit Sen. Stabenow’s re-election campaign. While the substance of the conversation was off-the-record, in introducing Schumer, host and NORPAC Long Island President Stanley Stern noted how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell similarly visited the Stern’s home for a NORPAC fundraiser. “At the time he was the minority leader but soon thereafter he became majority leader, so you never know,” Stern joked, to which Schumer quipped, “as Mitch McConnell would say, ‘Im Yirtzeh Hashem.’” Later in the discussion, Schumer described how the Senate is such a small place where members really get to know one another, “kind of like a New York shtiebel.”
Before speaking, Schumer made three blessings — including the Shehecheyanu, explaining that while the third blessing is typically reserved for the first night “we’ll make an exception” — and proceeded to light the Hanukkah menorah, with assistance from Sen. Stabenow. Schumer then sang Haneirot Halalu and described his wife’s legendary latkes he planned to eat later that day.
SPOTTED: NORPAC President Dr. Ben Chouake, Joshua and Harriet Muss, Iris and Shalom Maidenbaum, Dana and Marc Gibber, Esther and Dov Zeidman, Ilyse and Alex Sternberg.
THE DAILY KUSHNER — “Kushner’s legal team looks to hire crisis public relations firm amid Russia probe” by Josh Dawsey: “Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, has quietly called at least two firms… The inquiries have occurred in the past two weeks… Kushner has been in the headlines almost daily, and he has complained to friends about the nonstop negative attention from the news media…” [WashPost] • Mueller obtains “tens of thousands” of Trump transition emails, including emails of Jared Kushner [Axios]
IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Trump picks on Rosenstein as campaign to discredit Mueller’s investigation heats up — by Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Sari Horwitz: “Trump appeared to be contemplating changes in the Justice Department’s leadership. In recent discussions, two advisers said, Trump has called the attorney general “weak,” and complained that Rosenstein has shown insufficient accountability on the special counsel’s work. A senior official said Trump mocked Rosenstein’s recent testimony on Capitol Hill, saying he looked weak and unable to answer questions. Trump has ranted about Rosenstein as “a Democrat” … and characterized him as a threat to his presidency. In fact, Rosenstein is a Republican.” [WashPost]
ON THE HILL — “Race for top House committee position reflects Democratic Party’s Israel dilemmas” by Amir Tibon: “The Judiciary Committee doesn’t regularly deal with foreign policy questions, and its jurisdiction doesn’t directly address Israel most of the time. Democrats involved in the race between [Jerry] Nadler and [Zoe] Lofgren, however, did mention two issues that could come up in discussion before the committee, and are of concern to Israel: legislation against boycotts of Israel… and international legal investigations concerning IDF actions in the West Bank and Gaza… On these two issues, a statement by the leading Democrat on the Judiciary Committee “could definitely influence how it will be discussed within the party,” said a senior official in a leading pro-Israel organization.” [Haaretz]
“Franken urged to reverse his resignation” by Edward-Isaac Dovere: “At least four senators are urging Al Franken to reconsider resigning, including two who issued statements calling for the resignation two weeks ago and said they now feel remorse over what they feel was a rush to judgment… People familiar with Franken’s plans said he has not changed his mind and intends to formally resign in early January.” [Politico]
2018 WATCH: “A Republican Running To Replace Paul Ryan Comes With White Nationalist Street Cred” by Christopher Mathias: “[Paul] Nehlen campaigned in Alabama recently for Roy Moore… On Dec. 9, Nehlen was a guest on an anti-Semitic white power podcast called “Fash the Nation,” talking to hosts “Jazzhands McFeels” and “Marcus Halberstram” for about an hour. (“Fash” is shorthand among the so-called alt-right, a loose association of white nationalists, for “fascist.”) It was Nehlen’s second appearance on the show, and his fluency with white nationalist jargon was evident as he made thinly veiled anti-Semitic remarks and proudly recounted having told a Jewish magazine editor to “eat a bullet.”” [HuffPost]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Next Up for Westfield’s Lowy Family: Blurring Retail Lines [WSJ] • Israel Poised for ‘Economic Earthquake’ Caused by U.S. Tax Reform [BigLawBusiness] • Workers at Israel’s Teva Pharm block roads, continue protest over job cuts [Reuters]
PROFILE: “A Rainmaker Seeks to Grow His Firm at a Time of Big Media and Tech Deals” by Michael de la Merced: “Five years ago, the investment banker Aryeh B. Bourkoff, on his own after having left UBS, hitched a ride on the private plane of the billionaire John C. Malone and pitched a deal: Now was the time for the mogul to get back into the telecommunications business… Mr. Malone was intrigued by the possibility. And what started with a $2.6 billion investment into Charter has become a national cable empire that includes the former Time Warner Cable — and the promise of yet more deal-making, led in part by Mr. Bourkoff and his boutique bank, LionTree… But the question Mr. Bourkoff faces is whether he can transform his schmoozing into a business that can outlast him.” [NYTimes]
SPOTLIGHT: “Mining World’s Ultimate Deal-Maker Struggles in New Frugal Era” by Scott Patterson: “[Mick] Davis, 59 years old, remains a leading figure in the global mining industry and maintains a high profile in his home, the U.K. He is chief executive of the British Conservative Party, holds a leadership role in London’s Jewish community and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for work commemorating the Holocaust.” [WSJ]
“Toronto Buzzes With Talk of Billionaire Couple’s Suspicious Death” by Catherine Porter: “Barry Sherman, a Canadian billionaire, generic-drug mogul and philanthropist, once promised that the autobiography he was writing would be a page-turner, packed with stories of intrigue, duplicity and outright corruption by his competition. The last chapter was without doubt the most sensational — and he did not get to write it. It occurred last Friday, when his body was rolled out of his Toronto mansion by the police, together with that of his wife, Honey. On Sunday night, Toronto police announced that its homicide team was leading the investigation.” [NYTimes]
“Polish Holocaust Survivor Heeded Brutal Advice, Then Moved On” by James Hagerty: “Hilda Gimpel was born April 25, 1917, in the Polish village of Izbica Kujawska, about 100 miles west of Warsaw… In a video interview recorded by the USC Shoah Foundation in 2001, she remembered a peaceful girlhood. “We had a good life,” dancing to Jewish music and occasionally going to movies, she said. “We didn’t know better.” After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Jewish businesses were shut down. Belongings were smashed or stolen. Religious rites had to be concealed. “We just closed ourselves up in the house,” she said. Later, while other Jews were being rounded up, she escaped with her first husband. He had blond hair, looked “like a goy” and could find odd jobs as a mechanic. They moved from city to city… When the war ended, she found her childhood home in ruins and reconnected with a young man she had known as a girl: Harry Eisen. He had survived the Auschwitz death camp, and nearly all of his family was gone. They decided to marry. They moved to Southern California and made a fortune raising chickens to produce eggs for supermarkets.” [WSJ]
HOLLYWOOD: “Seinfeld: My comedy career started on Kibbutz Sa’ar” by Amy Spiro: “My very first thoughts of being a comedian were in Israel when I was 15,” [Jerry Seinfeld] told Dana Weiss in an interview with Channel 2 News… Seinfeld was there working – or not working mostly – on Kibbutz Sa’ar in 1970, and “there were a couple of other kids there from New York, from Queens, and we were doing lots of comedy things you know, hanging around… I ate halva and falafel and it was really a fantastic summer.” … Seinfeld is bringing his whole family with him when he returns to perform two shows in Tel Aviv on December 30. Since they’ve never been before, he said he wants to hit all the sites, including “Masada and the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.”[JPost]
TALK OF THE TOWN: “Lauder brothers among high school Hall of Fame inductees” by Ian Mohr: “Leonard Lauder and his brother, Ronald Lauder… will soon add to their accomplishments with an induction into the Bronx High School of Science Hall of Fame as part of the school’s 80th anniversary… Other notable inductees will include superlawyer Ira Millstein, political columnist William Safire, Rep. Nita M. Lowey, architect Daniel Libeskind, Burberry Vice Chairman Rose Marie Bravo, veteran J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler, “Pretty in Pink” star Jon Cryer and “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau.” [PageSix]
TALK OF OUR NATION: “Rabbi Brous: ‘I’ve Spent My Life Studying These Books That Say Decency Actually Matters’” by Emma Green: “The senior rabbi at IKAR, a non-denominational spiritual community in Los Angeles, [Sharon Brous] believes this is not a normal moment in American politics, and Jewish leaders need to speak out. The models of Jewish movement-building are also changing, she says: Gone are the days when the president of the Union of Reform Judaism or the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly are the only voices who can speak for American Jews.” [TheAtlantic]
“The Bar Mitzvah Party Starters” by Jen Doll: “Meir Kay is a bar mitzvah party motivator. Well, not just that. As he explains on his website, “I’m all about spreading positivity through different mediums.” Along with producing and directing and starring in videos that emphasize kindness and happiness, he’s a hype man, a dancer, a balloon animal-maker, a distributor of neon hats and glow sticks, a wrangler of both kids and adults on the dance floor. “I love entertaining people,” he tells me on a phone call during which I finagled an invite to the party. “I’m always the guy on the dance floor at weddings and parties. Two years ago, I got a call from a family friend. They said, ‘We’re doing a bar mitzvah, we love your energy, how do we get you involved?’ I was like, ‘I’ve never done this before.’ They said ‘We trust you,’ and brought me down to New Jersey to do the party.” [Topic]
“Google Thinks I’m Dead” by Rachel Abrams: “A search for “Rachel Abrams” revealed that Google had mashed my picture from The New York Times’s website with the Wikipedia entry for a better-known writer with the same name, who died in 2013… My father pointed this out in a quizzical text message, but the error seemed like an inconsequential annoyance best ignored indefinitely… But when an acquaintance said she was alarmed to read that I had passed away, it seemed like an error worth correcting. And so began the quest to convince someone at Google that I am alive… That biographical information belongs to the writer Rachel Abrams, the late wife of Elliott Abrams, who held prominent positions during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Ms. Abrams… published online on her blog, Bad Rachel, and her writing appeared in national publications.” [NYTimes]
SPORTS BLINK: “Commentator jumps to conclusions and is left eating crow” by Max Jaeger: “CNN guest commentator Hilary Rosen is on the hot seat after she publicly and baselessly panned a Georgetown University sports fan as anti-Semitic — because he was wearing a bacon suit during his school’s recent basketball game against Syracuse University. It turns out the fan’s name is Michael Bakan, and he regularly wears the get-up just because his last name is pronounced like the non-Kosher breakfast staple.” [NYPost]
BIRTHDAYS: Winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Medicine, he served as director of NIH (1993-1999) and director of the National Cancer Institute (2010-2015), Harold Eliot Varmus turns 78… Office Manager in the DC office of Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris, Ramona Cohen turns 72… Co-founder of DreamWorks Studios, Academy Award-winning director of “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” plus many other box-office record setters like “E.T.” and “Jaws,” Steven Spielberg turns 71… Member of the US House of Representatives from Florida since 2009, he previously served in the Florida Senate (2000-2008) and the Florida House of Representatives (1992-2000), William Joseph (Bill) Posey turns 70… Former CFO of the Pentagon (2001-2004), he held high ranking posts in multiple administrations, Dov S. Zakheim turns 69… Film critic, historian and author of 12 books on cinema, Leonard Maltin turns 67… Winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, professor at both Stanford and Harvard, and the 2017 President of the American Economics Association, Alvin Elliot Roth turns 66… Television writer, producer and director, best known as the co-creator and executive producer of the award-winning series “24” which ran for eight seasons on Fox, Joel Surnow turns 62… Labor leader, attorney, and educator, she is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten turns 60…
Philanthropist, the founder and chief executive of Third Point LLC, Dan Loebturns 56… Editor since 2008 of The Jewish Chronicle (a London-based Jewish weekly newspaper since 1841), Stephen Pollard turns 53… Member of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency, he is the former Secretary General of World Bnei Akiva, Gael Grunewald turns 53… Principal with the communications firm 30 Point Strategies, formerly a White House speechwriter and Jewish liaison for George W. Bush from 2002-2005, Noam Neusner turns 48… Member of the Florida House of Representatives since 2012, Jared Moskowitz turns 37… Chicago-based, Midwest deputy political director for AIPAC, Marc Ashed turns 30… Community Liaison for U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Eliezer H. (Elie) Peltz turns 27… Emily Cooper…
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